Michelle Ananda-Rajah MP – condemning Hamas’ attacks

Photo of Michelle Ananda-Rajah MP
October 16, 2023

Israel’s response was swift. A state of war was declared, troops were mobilised, and the counteroffensive began. The counternarrative was equally swift. This is about the oppression of Palestinians in the largest open-air prison in the world. This is about Palestinian self-determination. This is about a 16-year-old blockade in Gaza, with an undercurrent that Jews are somehow co-conspirators in this tragedy. It is grotesque.

Dr ANANDA-RAJAH (Higgins) (16:41): Australia enjoys a degree of social cohesion that is the envy of the world. Our peaceful life here is adorned with totems of our multicultural heritage—food from every corner of the world, temples, synagogues, mosques, churches, Indigenous place names and art. Most importantly it is the kaleidoscope of faces converging in our schools, sporting fields, workplaces and indeed our own parliament. Our interconnectedness means that attacks on any one group of our Australian family is an attack on us all. Australia is a bright spot in an increasingly polarised and unstable world. It is not, however, immune to forces beyond our shores. Events overseas have sent shockwaves that have rippled through our community, but those ripples can gather force, tearing at our social fabric, depending on how we as leaders and as a community respond.

The terrorist attacks in Israel by Hamas have sent shockwaves around the world, including into my own community. These attacks on innocent Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, nonresidents from around the world, adults and children, men and women, from babies through to the very old, were barbaric and have been described by Jews as the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. It is incomprehensible to see babies held hostage, separated from their mothers.

Every Jewish constituent I’ve spoken to in the last week has been affected. People are toggling between rage and grief and despair. They are in shock, emotionally exhausted, and they feel helpless. This is an intergenerational trauma in the making. They have lost loved ones or know of people who have. Some have been separated from families, others are worried sick for loved ones who have been called up for active duty. These are cousins, sons and daughters, reservists and defence personnel. It is harrowing for all involved and harrowing to witness. It’s vicarious trauma beaming throughout the world.

Israel’s response was swift. A state of war was declared, troops were mobilised, and the counteroffensive began. The counternarrative was equally swift. This is about the oppression of Palestinians in the largest open-air prison in the world. This is about Palestinian self-determination. This is about a 16-year-old blockade in Gaza, with an undercurrent that Jews are somehow co-conspirators in this tragedy. It is grotesque.

The pretext for these abhorrent attacks by Hamas was the liberation of the Palestinian people. How is that credible when these attacks have irrevocably harmed the cause of the Palestinian people, setting back their cause years if not longer? They are now fleeing for their lives from an Israeli bombardment that was predictable and predictably overwhelming. There are no winners—none at all—when violence is the currency and lives the collateral.

I have some understanding of the deep mistrust and entrenched enmity between these sides. I went to Israel on a cross-party parliamentary delegation with the Speaker in late July. It was a non-stop listening tour, an immersive experience, like a semester’s worth of knowledge crammed into one week. I understand that emotions are running high, that both sides are demanding to be heard and to be seen.

I urge people who regale me at the shops or fill up my inbox to hold your judgement and instead hold your fellow Australians’ hands. It is too early to be moralising when bombs are raining down and tears flow like a flood.

I denounce the antisemitism we have witnessed in the aftermath of the Hamas attack. I am unwilling to repeat what has been said. I can’t actually bring myself to do so because it is so poisonous. We have seen some reprehensible behaviour at a protest early on in Sydney, but fortunately nothing in the last few days in large protests in Melbourne and Sydney, which were peaceful and, largely, respectful. Let’s keep it that way, even when things go from bad to worse overseas. For my 6½ thousand Jewish constituents, hate speech and the prancing of cowardly Neo-Nazis with their salutes and concealed faces in our public places are a direct threat to their sense of belonging and to their sense of attachment with our community. It is deeply destabilising, and it triggers memories of the Holocaust—an intergenerational trauma that is baked into the DNA of the Jewish people and Israel.

The banning of the Nazi salute by the Victorian government and the imminent introduction of the Albanese government’s counterterrorism bill banning the display of Nazi symbols is timely and will make those groups pause before they act. Jewish constituents have been advised to send their children to school in plain clothes. Some are wondering, when they drop off their children, whether they will see them again. Some have even removed visible accoutrements denoting their Jewish identity. They are worried for their safety in public places and also at public gatherings or vigils which are being held in solidarity with Israel and to support one another.

But antisemitism hurts us all. It ripples beyond the Jewish community, destabilising the wellbeing of the entire community. Why? It’s because we are a multicultural nation, with 50 per cent of us either having been born overseas or having a parent who was born overseas. Many of the waves of migrants coming to Australia fled wars themselves. Those memories endure in them and in their children. Migrants have all encountered racism. I—we—know what it’s like. Others have experienced discrimination based on attributes like gender, age, disability, sexuality or ancestry. No-one should feel like they do not belong in Australia. An attack on one is an attack on us all. This is why hate speech and hateful behaviour have no place in our country. Leave them at the door. In the midst of this is the fog of misinformation, with social media as the smoke machine. Add generative AI to the mix, and we have a really dangerous situation where we start to question what our eyes are seeing. Is it real or is it fake? Refrain from the hot takes from everyone except trusted sources. As this conflict escalates, there are lots of reasons to tighten up our misinformation laws, as we in the Albanese government intend to do.

Then there is the responsibility of leaders. As I said in my first speech:

… I have watched with alarm as words used in this chamber ricochet around the country, tearing at our social fabric. Spillover effects are acts of hate on our streets against Asians, Jews, Muslims, people of colour, the gender diverse. And the gun gets fired here. We have a choice. We can accept the politics of division or devalue that currency to junk.

I have been disturbed at the sight of those opposite using the unfolding war in Israel as a means to prove their allegiance to Jews. Tough talk plays to populist politics that those opposite are addicted to, but that is not leadership. Using political rhetoric as a competition for loyalty only risks inflaming domestic tensions. A war is no time for chest beating for political advantage. There are no winners here.

To our Jewish community, you know our sincerity. We were there with you at the birth of your nation. Know our responsibility also to you and our wider community in keeping our Australian family safe. If we are all safe, then you also will be safe. My priority is to protect my community and maintain social cohesion so that mums can drop their kids off at school and students can attend uni without fear; so that people can attend their synagogues or mosques without fear of reprisals; and so that Australians can wear the hijab or the kippah without fear.

Arab constituents, including Palestinians, are also worried sick. Like the Jewish people, they are angry, grieving and despairing. Palestinian aspirations for self-determination are legitimate, but they have been let down. They have been let down and abandoned by a terrorist organisation that is treating them as pawns in a grand power play. It is the height of treachery.

They are suffering and will suffer more in the coming days to weeks. There are no winners. Israel will defend herself, as she must, and she will retaliate, as she should. We, including many Israelis, the Jewish diaspora and Australians, are rightly concerned about the prospect of mass casualties in Gaza. I’m also concerned about Islamophobic rhetoric here.

We urge the protection of civilian lives and join others in calling for Israel to operate by the rules of international law. We have provided an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance to Gazans. We call for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access for those civilians.

The hell of war is unfolding in all its devastation, but my task is to keep that hell away from our doorstep. It is not welcome here and nor are microaggressions or aggressions overt or covert in our workplaces, sporting teams, faith groups, streets, schools or online. Now is the time we lock as Australians and support each other. Hold the judgement. Hold the hot takes. Now is not the time for that. Now is the time to hold each other and seek out differing perspectives even if they are uncomfortable. Reach out to people affected of any ethnic or religious persuasion and offer support. Be an ally. That is the Australian way. I thank the House.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard